As federal financial aid faces deep funding cuts, one key program designed to prep underrepresented students for doctoral studies will continue to prosper at West Virginia University.

The U.S. Department of Education has announced that the McNair Scholars Program at WVU will benefit from a $219,998 grant over the next year and will receive funding for the next five.

That’s about a 6 percent cut from the previous budget. Still, that’s good news for WVU, considering that $10 million was cut nationally from the McNair program this fall, resulting in up to 75 campuses losing their grants.

“While the budget was cut, the federally standardized goals and objectives are more ambitious than ever,” said Anita Mayer, program director of the WVU McNair Scholars Program. “New initiatives will be built into the upcoming program and we will continue to work hard to stay competitive in the wake of federal budget cuts.

“It is exciting to know that undergraduate McNair Scholars will continue to be intimately involved in significant research projects. They become the best of the best candidates for graduate school as a direct result of the WVU McNair Scholars Program.”

Through financial aid, academic advising and undergraduate research opportunities, the McNair Scholars Program pushes students from first-generation, minority and financially disadvantaged backgrounds toward their doctorate degrees.

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education in honor of engineer, scientist and NASA astronaut Ronald E. McNair, who was killed in the 1986 Challenger explosion. An African-American, McNair grew up picking cotton and tobacco in a small South Carolina town. His aspirations led him to bigger things – a Ph.D. in physics, a sixth-degree black belt in karate and a spot on NASA’s astronaut program.

His hard work did not vanish with his death aboard the Challenger. A few years later, the national McNair Scholars program was created in his honor. The program came to WVU in 2000, and since, more than 100 Mountaineers have benefited.

The continuation of the program helps further fulfill the University’s land-grant mission.

“Our land-grant university mission is to provide access to high-quality education,” said Nigel Clark, associate vice president for academic planning at WVU. “The renewal of our McNair award provides critical resources to introduce participants to research and graduate studies.”

Provost Michele Wheatly said the McNair Program promotes the goals of the 2020 Strategic Plan for the Future, particularly Goal 2 (to excel in research, creative activity and innovation in all disciplines) and Goal 3 (to foster diversity and an inclusive culture).

“The McNair Scholars Program plays a significant role in the University’s Strategic Plan, as it increases scholarly activity and research and fosters diversity,” Wheatly said. “With the future of this program ensured and the latest report on the demographics of the entering class, we are perfectly positioned to train more outstanding – and diverse – Mountaineers.”

This year’s batch of McNair Scholars at WVU includes 19 students, representing a diverse range of majors from aerospace engineering to psychology. Each student receives a $2,400 annual stipend, graduate school placement assistance, research internships and professional development opportunities to help them gain admission into masters’ and doctoral programs.

“We’re very happy that WVU continues to receive funding for this life-changing initiative,” said Betty Mei, assistant director of WVU’s McNair Scholars Program. “It’s a vital part to the University’s dedication to provide equal access to underrepresented students.”

For more information on the program, visit To view a video about the program at WVU, go to



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